The Leveson Report

The Leveson Report

Lord Justice Leveson’s long-awaited report into the culture, practice and ethics of the press was released yesterday to mixed reactions from the House of Commons. The report is the result of the eight-month inquiry ordered by the government after it emerged that the News of the World hacked the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler and that certain public officials and members of the police force had accepted bribes from journalists. Leveson’s recommendations about the future of the press, based on the evidence that he heard and read over the course of the inquiry, is set out in his report of nearly 2,000 pages, which can be read here. He has also provided an executive summary of his findings and recommendations at a much more manageable 46 pages.

Leveson’s report is at times damning of the British press, which he recognises as a ‘guardian of democracy’, but has at times simply ignored the responsibility which it has to respect the public interest. He goes as far as to say that the actions of some members of the press in chasing stories has over recent years ’caused real hardship and, on occasion, wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people whose rights and liberties have been disdained’. The Press Complaints Commission is criticised as not actually ‘being a regulator at all. In reality it is a complaints handling body…[and] the remedies at its disposal are woefully inadequate and enforceable only by persuasion’.

This, however, has not led Leveson to conclude that there should be legislation to control the press; he does not want to jeopardise press freedom in any way and notes that ‘not a single witness has proposed that the Government or Parliament should be able to step in to prevent the publication of anything whatsoever’. Rather, he calls for the creation of a new ‘genuinely independent and effective system of self-regulation’, but ‘it is essential that there should be legislation to underpin the independent self-regulatory system and facilitate its recognition in legal processes’.

…he does not want to jeopardise press freedom in any way…

The Government welcomed the findings of the report, but is now divided as to the role that this proposed legislation should play. While Leveson states that ‘this is not, and cannot be characterised as, statutory regulation of the press’, the Prime Minister was cautious of endorsing any new legislation, saying to the House of Commons that he has ‘serious concerns and misgivings’ about underpinning a new body by law. Cameron went on to say that the new body did not need legislation to be effective, given the danger that this could ‘infringe free speech’ and that ‘no one wants to see statutory regulation’. However, Labour leader Ed Miliband moved to endorse Leveson’s recommendations, stating that they are ‘measured, reasonable and proportionate’ and welcomed Cameron’s offer of cross-party talks, but said that discussion should be about implementing the plans, not about whether to do so.

We can only hope that the Government moves quickly in their talks to come to some kind of conclusion…

The Hacked Off campaign also gave a press conference yesterday afternoon, stating that ‘Leveson has done his job’ in providing the Prime Minister with ‘a workable, proportionate and reasonable solution to the problem of press abuse’. The statement to the press went on to criticise Cameron, accusing him of not doing his job, and describing his failure to accept Leveson’s recommendations in full as ‘unfortunate and regrettable’. David Sherborne, the barrister who represented the victims of phone hacking at the inquiry, has released a statement on their behalf also welcoming the contents of the report.

From following Twitter and the press yesterday, it would appear that the majority of the public are also pleased with Leveson’s report and recommendations and would want to see these implemented in full. We can only hope that the Government moves quickly in their talks to come to some kind of conclusion in order to prevent the ‘havoc’ that Leveson refers to happening again.

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